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source of pleasure. Perhaps no man ever thought a line superfluous when he first wrote it, or contracted bis work till his ebullitions of invention had subsided. And even if he should control his desire of immediate renown, and keep his work nine years unpublished, he will be still the author, and still in danger of deceiving himself: and if he consults his friends, he will probably find men who have more kindness than judgment, or more fear to offend than desire to instruct.
The tediousness of this poem proceeds not from the uniformity of the subject, for it is sufficiently diversified, but from the continued tenor of the narration ; in which Solomon relates the successive vicissitudes of his own mind, without the intervention of any other speaker, or the mention of any other agent, unless it be Abra; the reader is only to learn what be thought, and to be told that he thought wrong. The event of every experiment is foreseen, and therefore the process is not much regarded.
Yet the work is far from deserving to be neglected. He that shall peruse it will be able to mark many passages to which he may recur for instruction or delight; many from which the poet may learn to write, and the philosopher to reason.
If Prior's poetry be generally considered, his praise will be that of correctness and industry, rather than of compass of comprehension, or activity of fancy. He never made any effort of invention : his greater pieces are only tissues of common thoughts; and his smaller, which consist of light images or single conceits, are not always bís Own. I have traced him among the French epigrammatists, and have been informed that he poached for prey among obscure authors. The Thief and Cordelier' is, I suppose, generally considered as an origical production ; with how much justice this epigram may tell, which was written by Georgius Sabinus, a poet now little known or tead, though once the friend of Luther and Melancthon :
De Sacerdote Furem consolante.
Huc ubi dat sontes carnificina neci,
Jam cum ccelitibus (si modo credis) eris.
Ille gemens, si vera mihi solatia præbes,
Hospes apud superos sis meus oro, refert.
Ducere, jejunans hac edo luce nihil. What he has valuable he owes to his diligence and his judgment. His diligence has justly placed 'him amongst the most correct of the English poets; and he was one of the first that resolutely endeavoured at correctness. He never sacrifices accuracy to haste, nor indulges bimself in contemptuous negligence, or impatient idleness : he has no careless lines, or entangled sentiments: his words are nicely selected, and his thoughts fully expanded. If this part of his character suffers an abatement, it must be from the disproportion of his rhymes, which have pot always suf. ficient consonance, and from the admission of broken lines into bis Solomon ;' but perhaps he thought, like Cowley, that hemistichs ought to be admitted into heroic poetry.
He had apparently such rectitude of judgment as secured him from every thing that approached to the ridiculous or absurd; but as laws operate in civil agency not to the excitement of virtue, but the repression of wickedness, so judgment in the operations of intellect can hinder faults, but not produce excellence. Prior is never low, nor very often sublime. It is said by Longinus of Euripides, that he forces himself sometimes into grandear by violence of effort, as the lion kindles his fury by the lashes of his own tail. Whatever Prior obtains above mediocrity seems the effort of struggle and of toil. He has many vigorous but few happy lines; he has every thing by purchase, and no thing by gift; he had no nightly visitations of the muse, no infusions of sentiment or felicities of fancy.
His diction, however, is more his own than of any among the successors of Dryden; he borrows no lucky turns, or commodious modes of language, from his predecessors. His phrases are original, but they are sometimes harsh: as he inherited no elegancies, none has he bequeathed. His expression has every mark of laborious study; the line seldom seems to have been formed at once; the words did not come till they were called, and were then put by constraint into their places, where they do their duty, but do it sullenly. In his greater compositions there may be found more rigid stateliness than graceful dignity.
Of versification he was not negligent; what he received from Dryden he did not lose; neither did he increase the difficulty of writing by unnecessary severity, but uses triplets and Alexandrines without scruple. In his preface to "Solomon' he proposes some improvements, by extending the sense from one couplet to another, with variety of pauses. This he has attempted, but without success; his interrupted lines are unpleasing, and his sense as less distinct is less striking.
He has altered the stanza of Spenser, as a house is al. tered by building another in its place of a different form. With how little resemblance he has formed his new stanza to that of his master these specimens will shew:
unseen and trembling lies,
By this new structure of his lines he has avoided difficulties; nor am I sure that he has lost any of the power of pleasing : but he no longer imitates Spenser.
Some of his poems are written without regularity of measure; for, when he commenced poet, he had not recovered from our Pindaric infatuation; but he probably lived to be convinced, that the essence of verse is order and Consonance,
His numbers are such as mere diligence may attain; they seldom offend the ear, and seldom soothe it; they commonly want airiness, lightness, and facility: what is smooth is not soft. His verses always roll, but they seldom flow.
A survey of the life and writings of Prior may exemplify a sentence which he doubtless understood well, when he read Horace at his uncle's; "the vessel long retains the scent which it first receives.' In his private relaxation he revived the tavern, and in his amorous pedantry he exhibited the college. But, on higher occasions, and nobler subjects, when habit was overpowered by the necessity of reflection, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman, or elegance as a poet.
CONGREVE. WILLIAM CONGREVE descended from a family in Staffordshire, of so great antiquity that it claims a place among the few that extend their line beyond the Norman Conquest; and was the son of William Congreve, second son of Richard Congreve, of Congreve and Stratton. He visited, once at least, the residence of his ancestors; and, I believe, more places than one are still shewn, in groves and gardens, where he is related to have written his old Bachelor.
Neither the time nor place of his birth is certainly known: if the inscription upon his monument be true, he was born in 1672. For the place, it was said by himself, that he owed his nativity to England, and by every body else, that he was born in Ireland, Southern mentioned him, with sharp censure, as a man that meanly disowned his native country. The biographers assiga his nativity to Bardsa, near Leeds, in Yorkshire, from the account given by himself, as they suppose, to Jacob.
To doubt whether a man of eminence has told the truth about his own birth, is, in appearance, to be very deficient in caudour; yet, nobody can live long without knowing that falsehoods of convenience or vanity, falsehoods from which no evil immediately wisible ensues, except the general de. gradation of human testimony, are very lightly uttered; and, once uttered, are sullenly supported. Boileau, who desired to be thought a rigorous and steady moralist, hav. ing told a petty lie to Lewis the Fourteenth, continued it afterward by false dates; thinking himself obliged in honour, says his admirer, to maintain whát, when he said it, was so well received.
Wherever Congreve was born, he was educated first at Kilkenny, and afterward at Dublin, his father having some military employment that stationed him in Ireland ; but, after having passed through the usual preparatory studies, as may be reasonably supposed, with great celerity and success, his father thought it proper to assign him a profession by which something might be gotten; and, about the time of the Revolution, sent him, at the age of sixteen, to study law in the Middle Temple, where he lived for several years, but with very little attention to statutes or reports.
His disposition to become an author appeared very early, as he very early felt that force of imagination, and possessed that copiousness of sentiment, by which intellectual pleasure can be given. His first performance was a novel, called Incognita, or Love and Duty reconciled:' it is praised by the biographers, who quote some part of the preface, that is, indeed, for such a time of life, uncommonly judicious, I would rather praise it than read it.
His first dramatic labour was 'The Old Bachelor;' of which he says, in his defence against Collier,' that comedy was written, as several know, some years before it was acted. When I wrote it, I bad little thoughts of the stage; but did it to amuse myself in a slow recovery from a fit of sickness. Afterward, through my indiscretion, it was seen, and in some little time more, it was acted ; and I, through the remainder of my indiscretion, suffered myself to be drawn into the prosecution of a difficult and and thankless study, and to be involved in a perpetual war with knaves and fools.'
There seems to be a strange affectation in authors of ap pearing to have done every thing by chance. "The Old Bachelor' was written for amusement in the languor of convalescence... Yet it is apparently composed with great elaborateness of dialogue, and incessant ambition of wit. The age of the writer considered, it is, indeed, a very wonderful performance; for, whenever written, it was acted (1693) when he was not more than twenty-one years old; and was then recommended by Mr. Dryden, Mr. Southern, and Mr. Mainwaring. Dryden said, that he never had seen such